Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Anglo-Irish Treaty from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Irish history, articles of agreement between Britain and southern Ireland signed in London in December 1921, which confirmed the end of the Anglo-Irish War (1919–21) but then precipitated the Irish Civil War (1922–23). The settlement created the Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth and endorsed the creation of Northern Ireland. (Previously, the 1920 Government of Ireland Act had provided for partition of Ireland and two home rule parliaments.) Republicans split into pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty factions, opposition mainly centring on the subjugation of the Irish to the British monarchy, by the appointment of a British governor general, and an oath of allegiance to Britain required by members of the Parliament of the Irish Free State. Civil war was initiated by the provisional government of the Free State in 1922 to crush the anti-Treaty movement.

Following the truce between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British government forces in July 1921, five Irish delegates including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith travelled to London to negotiate a peace settlement with the Liberal government of British prime minister David Lloyd George (1863–1945). Controversially, the president of Dáil Éireann (parliament) and leader of the nationalist movement, Éamon de Valera, chose not to accompany them.

The subsequent settlement, reluctantly signed by the delegates on 6 December under Lloyd George's threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’, granted dominion status to the southern 26 counties but confirmed the partition of Ireland to create Northern Ireland (six of the nine counties of Ulster), established by the Government of Ireland Act (1920). The Treaty granted a substantial degree of political and economic autonomy. It allowed for the creation of an army but significantly limited Irish sovereignty by retaining control of a number of strategic ports.

Republican hostility The agreement was generally popular throughout southern Ireland, particularly among business interests, farmers, and the Catholic Church, but proved less so among the Sinn Fein politicians and IRA volunteers who had led the campaign against British rule. Many IRA volunteers who had sworn an oath to ‘the Republic’ were unwilling to accept any compromise that fell short of a fully independent republic. The symbolic aspects of Irish subordination to the British crown, such as the oath of fidelity, rather than partition and other practical limitations on sovereignty, provoked most republican hostility towards the Treaty.

The Treaty's most influential opponent, de Valera, insisted that the delegates should have sought the decision of the Dáil before signing the agreement. His alternative compromise proposal, external association with Britain, was rejected by Treaty supporters on the basis that it had been refused by the British government during the negotiations and generated little enthusiasm among the anti-Treaty IRA leadership who felt it was little different from the Treaty. Republican supporters of the Treaty, led by Griffith and the charismatic Collins, argued that compromise had been inevitable once the decision was made to negotiate with Britain and maintained that the Treaty provided sufficient freedom to enable future constitutional evolution towards full sovereignty.

After the Treaty was passed by a narrow majority of the Dáil on 7 January, the political and military wings of the nationalist movement fragmented into pro- and anti-Treaty factions. The latter, divided between uncompromising militants such as Cathal Brugha (1874–1922) and Liam Lynch (1890–1923), and less belligerent republicans such as Frank Aiken (1898–1983), refused to accept the authority of the pro-Treaty Provisional Government and the clear mandate for the Treaty demonstrated by the general election of June 1922. After the failure of negotiations between the opposing IRA factions and in the atmosphere of increasing political violence, the Provisional Government attacked the anti-Treaty garrison in Dublin's Four Courts on 28 June 1922; this led to the Irish Civil War. Lynch, as chief of staff of the Irregulars, refused to consider defeat and an end to the hostilities was achieved only after his death in action in April 1923.

essays

Irish Republicanism

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, 1921–2001

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921)
Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations

The first treaty between Britain and Ireland in centuries, owing to the historic conquest and occupation of Ireland by England to 1921. In...

Full text Article Béal na mBláth
Brewer's Britain and Ireland

Irish ‘the mouth of flowers’. A valley in County Cork, between BANDON and MACROOM , notorious in Irish folk memory as the location of the...

Full text Article Irish Civil War (1922–1923)
Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations

After the proclamation of the Irish Free State , a diehard faction of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), led somewhat reluctantly by Eamon de...

See more from Credo